Sinister (2012, dir. Scott Derrickson)
This is a movie that I only knew of because of a connection with one of my favorite former online movie critics, C. Robert Cargill. I had met him a handful of times at various Ain’t It Cool News events over a period of years and he was pretty cool to talk to. I had only previously known Scott Derrickson as the guy who jacked up The Day the Earth Stood Still, a movie that had bummed me out on my birthday one year. I didn’t know anyone in the cast except for Fred Dalton Thompson, in a glorified cameo, and Ethan Hawke in the role of the true crime author. I wasn’t necessarily over or underwhelmed about the prospect of this movie – I was whelmed.
I saw this movie in the middle of the day on opening day, right after my shift at work. I wasn’t sure if I’d made the right decision to see the movie, based on the low turnout. But to be fair, it was 3 o’clock in the afternoon, so I shouldn’t have judged. But once the movie started, things changed. The first couple of minutes kinda weirded me out and set the tone for what to expect. And up until that point, I’d never been so creeped out by a tree limb falling before.
Without recounting the whole movie, I’ll say that I liked the twist on the found footage aspect of the story. There is indeed found footage, but it’s not the conceit of the narrative. Instead, found footage is a mode to seed the narrative with plot points and revelations. Those 8mm films, though. Wow. The mix of traditional ambient score and borrowed tracks from other artists, combined with the unsettling silent movies found in the attic unnerved me quite a bit. The score ranges from hollow sounds all the way to highly percussive tracks that throb and pulse on the track, building a slow sense of dread. And I guess that’s what gets me the most – the slow build up of a sense of dread. It’s not too much, too obvious, but rather a slow build. However, when the moment is right, the tension is ratcheted in an obvious manner and for the fullest effect possible. And being hunted, or haunted, by a pre-Christian Babylonian death cult deity is rather precarious and places one in such types of situations.
And the more I watch the movie, I notice tiny details that I missed prior. No real spoilers, but an example is how early the daughter is painting on her bedroom walls. The figures aren’t quite as disturbing as the ones that pop up later in the movie, but they’re a little off from what a little kid might draw. But that’s not to say the drawings were merely coincidental and that I’m reading way too far into their appearance. I probably am, but it works for me either way.
For me, this movie gives me just enough discomfort at times, specifically if I have the volume to near movie theater levels while I’m at home, and the jumps are timed just right to really get the old gastrointestinal juices flowing. If you like atmospheric blending of found footage and traditional narrative, consider watching Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill’s Sinister.